Saturday, October 22, 2011

Learning from the Business of Crime


(Note: I do not subscribe to criminal activities nor am I justifying them. Such activities are anathema to me.)

I was narrated a very interesting anecdote by my friend. An acquaintance of his was asked to consult with a man of questionable credentials (from a business perspective). While the acquaintance was deflecting the topic of working with the man, finally the man spoke up and actually said - “In my kind of work only one thing works and that is trust. Without trust we cannot survive".  The acquaintance was surprised and later took the assignment and it was to her, one of her best.

In a world of increasing competition between companies and between employees within these companies, business relationships are guarded and safe guarded by legalese. Reams of papers with clauses and sub clauses bind these relationships. On the other hand, crime and criminals are held together by the minimum of documents (for fear of being caught and providing fodder for prosecution). They are infact held together primarily by trust which relies largely on a verbal agreement.  Incidentally there are high risks involved in such an agreement. Many of the institutional safeguards designed to compensate for the consequences of, such as the legal system (which comprises of courts, police and other sanctioned bodies like law enforcement agencies) are unavailable.  Trust, it is said, reduces the uncertainty regarding the behaviour of potential accomplices to a tolerable level and thereby stimulates the willingness to co-offend (Weerman 2003; Zaitch 2002). The importance of trust is best highlighted by Nkilas Luhmann  "Without trust, only very simple forms of human cooperation which can be transacted on the spot are possible, and even individual action is much too sensitive to disruption to be capable of being planned, without trust, beyond the immediately assured moment. Trust is indispensable in order to increase a social system's potential beyond these elementary forms"

Apart from this there is need and also a tendency of the criminals to be part of the 'clan' - a kind of kinship which explains to a large extent the trust factor between them. Kinship creates a sense of belonging and it is this feeling which drives criminals to stick together. Infact kinship and the resultant trust is a competitive advantage in the crime business. These bonds created through kinship are seen largely in the organized crime business which functions much like a parallel corporate business without the professionalism.

Given the situations these persons work in, it is without doubt extremely difficult. Fear exists of being caught unaware, fear of being caught by the legal system, fear of being caught by rivals, fear of no legal recourse and last but not the least the fear of the ultimate punishment - death!  It is in these extreme emotional conditions that these criminals are expected to perform efficiently. Working under pressure usually separates the men from the boys.

Apart from the emotional angle the very same conditions along with the fact that most activities have to conduct clandestinely makes it even more taxing physically.

In a corporate scenario, in the failure of a relationship and especially if it gets nasty, the option to turn legal always exists and hence the need to such have long drawn out legal agreements. In the criminal world it is less if not non-existent. Infact as is seen by the documentation the Indian legal system has been able to implicate so called powerful politicians. Since the criminal system eschews documentation - any break down in relationships/ dealings cannot go the legal way. However justice in this case can be drastic.

Failure to commit a task or even breaking the trust (in different ways) can result in retribution which can be also of the final order - life threatening. In such a scenario where punishment can be in the crudest form of emotional and physical torture, the downsides are very very high!

While I do not have to delve deep into the various factors which I have listed above with respect to the regular corporate world, there are times when I do think that corporate life can be 'not so pleasant' if not a vicious experience - a political minefield so to speak. Factors such as trust, belonging etc., seem to be a memory of the distant past. One-upmanship seems to be the order of the day. It is important for any organization to function as a team/ family. Disparate messages create dissonance.

I have noticed that people are not committed to the cause of the organization, they are merely there as travelers. They are not bothered by failure and look at short term goals. When time for analysis comes in - the person is long gone!

With such a dynamic and rapidly changing environment it become more than imperative to roll up one's sleeves and face the battle in the marketplace. Business today can be emotionally and physically draining. The rules of business are constantly changing and it is best to be prepared for it. Many employees come in with the intention of taking it easy!

It is for us to take the better parts of the criminal system to understand where we stand in the 'real' world. There is no substitute for hard work and there cannot be a parallel system. However it is startling that the parallel economy is half the size of the main economy in India! Therein lies the success and the worry!

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